Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Inglorious Basterds is Tarantino's Best Movie Yet

(But that isn't saying much)

There are a few directors out there who are overrated, and everybody knows it. I'm not talking about ones like Spielberg, Scorcese or Coppola who have made a few memorable films and a few more forgettable ones. I'm talking about ones like Sodeheim or Tarantino who make films that grab the public's attention, but are nowhere near as important as they'd like us to believe. Personally I don't think Quentin Tarantino deserves nearly as much hype as he gets, but I will admit that his new film Inglorious Basterds is at least deserving of some of its hype.

My problem with Tarantino's past efforts is that he's capable of being a good director, but doesn't follow through. His cinematography is good and his musical selection is impeccable, but he's best know for the pop culture savvy dialogue exchanges he writes. The problem is, he's rarely good at uniting all the music, the clever dialogue and the inspired shots to tell a good story. Instead, they just sit there as separate parts of a movie, waiting for somebody to come along and edit them into something nicer.

Maybe it took the complete failure of his last movie Death Proof, (his entry into the double feature Grindhouse,) for him to realize that just because he puts something on screen doesn't mean audiences will clamor for it. Or perhaps it was just by chance that all of his brilliant but disjointed movie making skills happened to work this time around.

Lets take his trademark dialogue for example. In all of his movies, the characters will ramble on for minutes at a time exchanging snappy lines, but its never in a way that moves the plot along. Hell in Death Proof, the whole first hour of the movie is nothing but dialogue exchanges before anything resembling plot development occurs.

In Basterds, this works to his advantage because it creates an almost intolerable level of tension as the heroes and villains toy with each other, waiting for their opponents to make the first move. In the opening scene Col. Landa, the film's main Nazi villain, stops by a French farmer's house. He engages in a friendly banter for a while, making the farmer feel at ease before making it clear he believes the farmer is hiding a Jewish family , and that there will be consequences if he does not reveal their location.

Later in the film, the Basterds, a group of Nazi-terrorizing Jewish American soldiers, masquerade as Nazi officers to rendezvous with a double agent at a bar. The problem is that at the bar they run into a real Nazi who wants to join them for a beer. On the surface they're playing a friendly drinking game together, but under the surface they know that each second they keep talking is another chance they might blow their cover.

Just because it's a period piece, don't think that Tarantino wouldn't work in his trademark music selection as well. For the most part he sticks with instrumental selections that I suspect were all borrowed from Sergio Leone movies, (it wouldn't be a Tarantino movie without an endless string of "homages" i guess). Yet, to build up the tension for the finale, he puts on a Davie Bowie song. Somehow it works.

Now Tarantino has always been good at picking a good cast, even if the movie they're in doesn't end up being all that great. With Basterds, most of the screen time is occupied by European actors for whom this marks their first performance in a major American movie, such as Good Bye Lenin!'s Daniel Bruhl. Others, like Diane Kruger, who has already been in major American releases such as Troy and the National Treasure movies, finally gets to do a role in her native tongue.

Strangely enough, the American actors give the most forgettable performances. Yes, Brad Pitt gets top billing, but he's actually a fairly minor character. When he emerges at the end of the rendezvous in the bar, he's actually off screen for so long I momentarily forgot he was in the movie. And as for Hostel director Eli Roth's performance? Well lets just say he seems as creepy in front of the camera as he is behind it.

So in short, Basterds is an alright movie. It's not really what I'd call an epic, and by no means is it the must see movie of the summer. However, it is a movie worth seeing on the big screen if you decide to see it at all.

1 comment:

  1. I loved it too. Christoph's performance is worthy of an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Terrific stuff.